COVID-19 Updates

Visit UC San Diego's Coronavirus portal for the latest information for the campus community.

Director's Message Summer 2018

Dr. Firestein

I am pleased to announce the availability of the ACTRI Virtual Research Desktop (VRD) for UC San Diego Health research scientists and staff. The service is a collaboration between ACTRI and UC San Diego Health Information Services (IS). The VRD is a HIPAA-compliant virtual desktop that operates in a secure private cloud server environment managed by the ACTRI and housed in a UC San Diego data center. It includes a variety of common analytics tools that access a private secure file directory under the investigator’s control.

The virtual desktop is accessed using a compact program that runs on a personal computer and connects to the cloud server, giving investigators access to their virtual workstations. The workstation “computer screen” can be viewed on the user’s local computer and responds to the local keyboard and mouse – even though the workstation is operating on a computer that is miles away from the actual desktop computer.

The Virtual Research Desktop offers many advantages, including more computing power, data security, large disk storage, and analytics tools:

More computing power: VRDs are not limited to the computer power of the investigator’s local desktop or laptop. ACTRI can make a virtual workstation into a super-workstation by giving it more computer power and memory than one can get even from an expensive physical workstation. Additionally, if there is need for even higher processing power, the VRD allows secure access into the UC San Diego Health approved and controlled HIPAA section of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. AWS related fees are passed through to the user requesting the AWS resources.

Date security: Since the VRD is on a remote server in a secure HIPAA-compliant data center, data are stored in a very secure environment. Laptops and desktops can be stolen or broken into, but the data are not at risk. The virtual hard drives are redundant and continually backed up. Of special note is that UC San Diego Health Information Services and UC San Diego Compliance have approved the ACTRI Research Virtual Workstations for storage and analysis of personal health information (PHI).

To increase cybersecurity and reduce the risk of data breaches, starting in the Fall of 2018, the ACTRI Patient Information Extract Service (PIES) will only place PHI it extracts from the EHR onto an ACTRI Virtual Research Desktop. To guarantee security, moving data to and from the virtual workstation are restricted. However, ACTRI biomedical informatics staff can move data for investigators.

Large disk storage: The VRDs use our data center storage systems, which are much larger than one typically has in a standard laptop or workstation and can thus accommodate more data.

An analytics tool is available: ACTRI configures each VRD with an assortment of tools used to analyze scientific data. Since many investigators use SAS, we have also deployed an SAS server that is accessible from the VRDs with an SAS client. This means an investigator’s SAS scripts are processed by a server in our secure HIPAA compliant environment and will run much faster than they do on a local laptop or workstation.

The ACTRI is currently providing complimentary VRDs for about six months to UC San Diego Health researchers who use the ACTRI PIES. The cost to continue using a VRD after the free period will generally be less than $50/month.

To find out more, please contact Antonios Koures, PhD, Chief Technology Officer of the ACTRI. Dr. Koures provided a presentation on the VRD service during the UC Health Data Day in June at UC San Diego.

Gary S. Firestein, MD, Director of ACTRI
Distinguished Professor of Medicine
Dean and Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical and Translational Research
Phone: (858) 822-3824